Listen to Peter Galbraith discuss the issues:
MONTPELIER — Peter Galbraith is running for governor with a progressive agenda shaped by his experiences overseas and from the experiences of his parents.
The 65-year-old Democrat from Townsend has unveiled an unapologetically progressive platform, calling for, in part, a $15 per hour minimum wage, a ban on corporate campaign contributions and continuing down the path toward a publicly financed, universal health care system. Those ideas, and his quest for social and economic justice, stem from the values he learned from his parents and his experiences as a diplomat in war-torn areas.
“From both of my parents come the values that I have and really a sense that we can have a more just society, that public goods like education, the arts, the environment, are things to be valued,” he said.
Galbraith’s mother was a fourth generation Vermonter whose life was “shaped by the great events of the 20th century,” Galbraith said. After receiving a scholarship to study in German she witnessed the rise of Hitler.
“She saw firsthand the rise of the Nazis, the Aryan race laws, and it really gave her a lifelong sense of kind of seeing and recognizing evil,” Galbraith said.
His father, John Kenneth Galbraith, received a doctorate degree from the University of Berkley in agricultural economics and went to work in Washington.
“All of a sudden there were jobs for economists with the New Deal,” Galbraith said. “He went on to become one of the most prominent economists of the 20th century, but somebody who believed that in public policy the important thing is to be able to communicate clearly and with strong, liberal convictions that I think grew out of the New Deal, grew out of his own background.”
One of the elder Galbraith’s most prominent books was “The Affluent Society,” which “described an America that was a place of private affluence and public squalor,” the Galbraith said.
Galbraith said the teachings of his parents have combined with his own experiences to create his own political philosophy. Some of those experiences came as a young man involved in Vermont politics. He worked for former Democratic Gov. Phil Hoff’s 1970 campaign for the U.S. Senate. He opposed the war in Vietnam. He then studied at Harvard and Oxford and taught international relations and history at Windham College in Putney.
Galbraith would then, like his father, go to Washington, D.C. He served as a staffer for the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee for nearly 15 years. During that time, he crafted the Prevention of Genocide Act that Congress passed, inspired by his experiences in Kurdistan.
Former President Bill Clinton would eventually appoint Galbraith as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia in 1993. As a diplomat, Galbraith said he was “constantly seeing injustice.” Throughout his diplomatic career, Galbraith said there was always one place to call home.
“Vermont’s always been my home. It’s a state I love. I’ve dealt, obviously, with a very turbulent world. This was a place when I’d come home I’d come back to Townsend. It was a place of peace,” he said. “I saw an opportunity to make a contribution. Frankly, I was also hopefully that we’d make some big changes.”
After considering a run for governor in 2008, Galbraith launched a campaign for the Senate from Windham County in 2010 and won. He would serve two terms in the Senate before announcing he would not seek a third term.
Galbraith developed a reputation in the Senate as a lone-wolf, often bucking the wishes of his fellow Democrats to pursue policy goals on his own. Galbraith said he brought the same tenacity that he utilized as a diplomat to his work as a senator.
“People have said that I’m not very diplomatic, but I don’t think they know what a diplomat does. A diplomat has to be tough and persistent. And I was tough and persistent for years, and there was a payoff,” he said. “What I know from that experience is that persistence is important. When you’ve seen things that are terribly wrong, it’s not just accepting that but trying to do something — being willing to take on authority.”
Galbraith pushed for a ban on fracking and it passed. He pushed, at the time, for a $12 per hour minimum wage and failed. And he introduced a finance plan utilized a payroll tax for a single payer health care system that went nowhere. Galbraith said he still believes in such a system.
“It’s really the unfinished part of what’s called the welfare state. Every other country has it and we don’t. I thought we could do it in Vermont,” he said.
Despite grumblings from his colleagues, Galbraith said he has no regrets about pushing a progressive agenda in the Senate.
“I just wasn’t going to accept the usual way of doing business in Montpelier. After all, anyone can just sit in a Senate sit and just sit in hearings and do what the committee chair wanted. I took on some big issues. I had some successes,” Galbraith said. “I took on my party on the issue of corporate campaign contributions. You can be a rebel on many things, but don’t go after a politicians money.”
He felt lots of frustration, however. Galbraith said he was surprised by the “extraordinary power of the special interests.”
“Time and time again I saw the interests of the special interests prevail over the broader public interest,” he said.
Galbraith entered the gubernatorial race in March, months after his primary rivals Matt Dunne, a former state senator and Google executive, and Sue Minter, a former secretary of the Agency of Transportation.
“I got into the race because the other candidates weren’t talking about the issues I thought were important. All the sudden, now they are. Nobody was talking about the $15 an hour minimum wage, which is, to me, the most important single thing we can do,” he said. “All of a sudden in the first debate they’re for it. I would say that’s having an impact.”
Galbraith said he is pleased his entrance into the race is “changing public policy,” but he is not shy about pointing it out. Galbraith, who says he has never accepted corporate campaign contributions, dinged Dunne for touting the fact that he has returned corporate contributions.
“It’s true. He is the first one because I never accepted them. There’s a certain amount of chutzpah there, but I’m glad. Sue’s returned her corporate money. So, I’m guessing there will be an effort to ban it,” Galbraith said.
With the primary about one month away, Galbraith said voters are responding to his message. “They see that I’m the most liberal candidate and I’m very clear about what I’m going to do,” he said.
There are similarities between Galbraith’s candidacy for governor and presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Galbraith said like Sanders, he has embraced a progressive agenda that he hopes to achieve as governor.
“I didn’t adopt my positions because Bernie Sanders has them, I adopted them because they’re the positions that I’ve always had,” he said.
While some have speculated that Sanders entered the presidential race to shape the agenda, before his candidacy took off, Galbraith said he entered the gubernatorial race to win.
“I’m running to do something, not just because I want to be something. Yes, of course, I’ve run to shape the agenda. But, I do intend to be governor of Vermont if voters will agree. This is not just to shape the election. I’m running to offer Vermonters a real choice — do they want someone who is a bona fide liberal who they can trust?” he said.